It's kind of a running joke amongst my college friends about how incredibly interested I have always been with Jewish traditions. It's mostly because three of my college roommates were Jewish and what was important to them was important to me. That's how I am with my friends, and that's how they are with me.
I met my friend Lia during the second semester of my freshman year of college. We had just joined the same sorority and realized we lived in dorms next door to one another. One spring afternoon in March, she suggested that we have dinner together. I brought sandwiches and she brought a blanket and we laid in the grass between our dorms and chatted. It was the perfect first (friend) date.
I quickly discovered we had very little in common. She was an east coaster and the daughter of a Rabbi. She had this way about her that looked like she just sort of tossed an outfit together, tousled her hair, and didn't even bother with make-up. And here I was, a confused Lutheran from no-where Ohio who actually tried very hard to pull myself together. Yet, she liked me, and I liked her.
Since then, she's traveled throughout the world, experiencing other cultures, participating in service organizations, and bringing that message back home to share with others. She helped build a school in Africa; she studied abroad in Israel; and she's traveled all over southeast Asia. The stories she shared with me about Thailand were the best after-two-or-three-glasses-of-wine stories I've ever heard in my life. I, on the other hand, stayed in Ohio, married a wonderful man, and have settled into a comfortable routine. Despite that, I enjoy every moment my friend is around and hope that she will continue to be what I like to think of as my Jewish Ambassador, teaching me to keep my mind open.
I owe her a lot for teaching me that.
In return, I have little to offer except my friendship and support. Though, I hope to make her proud when she sees this challah that I made.
There were a few challenges. The first was the whole braiding thing. I consulted a few recipes for information about how important the braid is, and frankly I think you can skip the braid and put the bread into loaf pans. But then how challah-like will this bread really look? I wanted to achieve the overall affect.
You can do a round braid, but that might be something to try next time. Just figuring out how to achieve the braid was confusing enough (and required consulting a handful of youtube videos), but really it's just like braiding long hair.
The recipe I ended up using from Epicurious did say that if it was getting too dark that you should tent it with foil. When I checked the bread halfway through it looked fine, but in retrospect I probably could have tented it then. Don't be deceived though--the bread isn't burnt (not even the bottom) and I felt like the dark crust gave it complexity.
Then again I'm a challah novice, so use your own judgment.
Finally, as suggested by Lia herself in the comments of my last post, I decided to try out using challah as French toast. I mixed a few eggs, some milk, and spices in a square baking dish and then put in it a few pieces of sliced challah to soak a minute or two on each side. Then I fried them a few at a time on each side in a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a hot skillet. My husband always used a hot griddle to make French toast and pancakes before he met me, but I think the oil is necessary to add a little crispness around the edges of the bread. He completely agrees.
Then, to mimic my epic French toast brunch at Donna's in Baltimore last weekend, I whipped up an Apple & Raisin compote, which ended up more like a syrup, and a few over easy eggs.
It was really good. The thick egginess of the challah makes a perfect French toast. It stays dense but soft on the inside and the dark crust gives a little texture, but not too much. The challah is already a teensy bit sweet, and I think that was a nice compliment to the apples and raisins, both of which are also sweet but not overtly.
Today I'd like to offer the recipe for the Apple & Raisin Compote rather than the challah, mostly because the challah was time consuming and require a lot of planning ahead. If you'd like to make this challah, go ahead and pull the recipe from Epicurious. It were clear and easy to follow but a lot of steps. Or you could just grab a loaf of challah from the grocery--no one will ever know.
Apple & Raisin Compote
adapted from The Sugar Association via cooksrecipes.com
makes about 2 cups
I think that this compote could easily be put on top of ice cream, pork tenderloin, and a whole host of other foods. To make it more savory, add some peanuts or even some sautéed diced onion. If you come up with a great variation, share it with me! Also, for softer, plumper raisins, soak them in the brandy for about 10 to 15 minutes, removing them from the liquid before you add the brandy to the pan. Then follow the instructions to add the raisins towards at the end.
4 tbsp unsalted butter
3-4 tart apples, cored and sliced
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
3 tbsp brandy
1/4 tsp ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup golden raisins
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add apples and cook for about 3 minutes, so that apples are still slightly crisp but can be pierced with a fork. Remove apples from pan and set aside in a bowl.
Increase the heat to medium-high and add the brandy, dark brown sugar, and spices. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally. Return the apples to the pot and add raisins. Cook until the raisins and apples are heated through.
Serve warm over French toast (or any other foods you'd like to eat it on!).